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My first impressions of Taiwan

Below you'll find part IV of my "How I ended up in Taiwan" story. Remember, you can still read the previous episodes in case you missed them.

So the 70th anniversary of 228 is over now. There was the big memorial event in Taipei with a speech in which President Tsai elaborated further on her ideas of transitional justice (Chinese textEnglish summary). There were marches, book presentations, memorial services and demonstrations all over Taiwan. Some of those who oppose the DPP's version of transitional justice also made their voices heard. Democracy in action all around.

On 228, I skipped the Tsai event and headed to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall with my video camera, to capture a clash of two smaller groups of protesters: Independence advocates from the Free Taiwan Party camp, and ROC stalwarts, partly from the KMT's Huang Fuxing military veterans branch. I shot some interesting footage, and I hope I get around to editing and uploading videos soon.

Let's just say that the actions of both groups that day made me realize how much of Taiwan's political struggle on the streets has become symbolic, enactments for the TV cameras. Yes, they had to be kept apart by police. Yes, there was shouting and pushing. But all in all, both sides seems to know their parts in this play and acted according to what was expected of them. And that's not a bad thing, because it means that the risk of actual violence is low. (In the first edition of a Taiwan Foundation for Democracy blog-like "bulletin", J. Michael Cole also elaborates on protest culture and its dislike for violence in Taiwan.)

So keep an eye on my Facebook page and Youtube account, there will be some new content there soon.

Take care!

Want to re-read the previous newsletters? They are right here.

Taiwan Resources in English

The blog of blogs

If you are interested in Taiwan’s English blogosphere, you are familiar with the fear of missing out. A lot of good stuff is published that will not necessarily make it to your Facebook feed. Maybe you don’t want to bother with RSS feeds or readers like Feedly (an app I can recommend).

This could be a good solution for you: The guy behind the Taiwan Explorer blog and Facebook page set up a website that he simply calls his “List of Taiwan Blogs”.

It collects a great deal of English blogs (and other languages in a separate column) on one lean page. Whatever blog post is freshest is on top, and each blog is only featured once on the whole list. Simple and useful.

Here is the link, bookmark it:

If you want to support my work in Taiwan, here is what you can do.

My Taiwan Story (Chapter 4)

My China Airlines flight touched down at Taoyuan Airport in March 2, 2008. For the first time, I set foot on Taiwanese soil. A driver picked me up and chauffeured me to my new temporary home, the International House in the hills overlooking Xindian. It was one of the lodging options that had been recommended in the papers I had been given. I had no idea how Xindian was located in relation to Taipei, or to the university where I was to have classes.

My recollection as to my first glimpses of Taiwan is a bit hazy at this point. I am sure that from the car window, I saw the same stretch of drab semi-industrial Taoyuan landscape that greets every visitor to Taiwan, at least until the recent opening of the Airport MRT: Highways, factories, wastelands, high-rises, sheds, occasional open fields. It all flew by.

Arriving at the International House, I dropped my luggage in my room. For something like NT$18,000 it had an en-suite bathroom, an Internet connection for my Apple – it was 2008 and I already had an Apple laptop, probably the last time that I was hip – and not much else in any way exciting or exotic.

So I soon set out to explore my new surroundings, most importantly the bus stops for my daily commute to NCCU University. Luckily, the personnel at the reception gave me some advice, because those Chinese maps and signs sure looked confusing to me.

So I came to the focal point for orientation in  my first few weeks in Taiwan: The intersection just south of Qizhang MRT station, Beiyi and Baoqiao Rd. This was the photo I sent home to let everyone know I had arrived, and put in my first blog post written that evening:

It was a busy day, as I had to get a Taiwanese SIM card for my trusty Nokia. First came an unsuccessful attempt at 7-Eleven where, after 15 minutes of hectic discussions and a phone call to an English-speaking friend, they decided that my passport was not enough and I needed an ARC (what is an ARC?). Then I had more luck at another shop.

In that same phone shop, I ran into an elderly Taiwanese lady who recommended her gym to me (don’t ask how we settled on that subject of conversation, I forgot) and took me along there to have a look for myself, thus providing me with the first experience of the famed Taiwanese friendliness. So I eventually signed up for the California Gym (that’s how that chain was called back then) in the Xindian Carrefour complex.

Another successful adventure: Getting my first meal in Taiwan. I decided to try my luck at a buffet restaurant, so no menu language trouble could get between me and my food. This is what I got for around NT$70.

Re-reading my first blog post, I realize that on that first day I had already noticed some quintessential things: Lots of scooters, lots of face masks, and the realization that Xindian can also be Sindian or Hsin-Tien.

What other surprises the Chinese language had in store for me will be the subject of the next episode.

(To be continued.)

Photo of the Week

I know, Sun Moon Lake belongs in every Taiwan guidebook. However, I feel that place has become overrun by tourism in a way that makes it feel not all that nice anymore. This place, on the other hand, is waiting to be discovered by you: Liyutan, a lake in Hualien County. Calm, surrounded by forrested mountains, hardly any roads, and only one small settlement to one side of it. At least, that's the way it was when I went there a few years ago. Has it changed, or is it still so nice?
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